La-Mulana Interview – Impacting the West as a Japanese Indie Developer

If you’re a fan retro adventure platformers, then you have most likely heard of La-Mulana. The series is known for its difficulty, but also for the immersive experience that it provides players regardless of its retro design.

Recently, it was announced that La-Mulana 1 & 2 will be releasing on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch by publisher NISA. We had the opportunity to interview the creator of the La-Mulana series Takumi Naramura during PAX West 2019 to talk about developing indie games and bringing his titles to the west.

Azario Lopez: Both entries in the La-Mulana series are known to be difficult. How do you feel about the current demand from gamers to make video games more accessible with optional difficulty modes?

Takumi Naramura: Well, I don’t personally think that La-Mulana is difficult especially when compared to games like Hollow Knight. The controls have been updated for this release to make things feel more smooth, but the difficulty in the game is a park of it and we don’t have plans change.

AL: The series originally launched in 2005. What made you decide to bring the series to current-gen consoles?

TN: At first, I was making games as a hobby and my main job was a graphic designer for a company who made me work long hours. I didn’t like this at all, so I decided that the only way to access my full potential is to gather my group of friends and release our most popular game, La-Mulana. This would get us by for a while, but now we’d like even more people to know about it and porting it to newer consoles seems to be the best way to do that.

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AL: Was it scary for you to leave a company to start your own studio?

TN: At the time, I knew there would be a time when games would be distributed through the internet, but it actually took me two years to tell my friends that I wanted to do this. It was a constant battle for me and I struggled to come to them, but I ended up finally doing it.

AL: And now, what are your plans to grow as a company?

TN: Well, I don’t think I’m going to make my games any easier, but I do understand that we don’t have a concrete way of bringing our games to the west so we are trying to build up that base with La-Mulana. We’d love to continue to come to western events and show the other games that we have developed.

When it comes to the difficulty of our games, this stems from the games that we played growing up during a time when it was more normal. As a young boy, I remember playing a game and getting so stuck only to return to it when I was older and get past it. I think this type of entertainment should still exist and I don’t think it needs to be changed too much.

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AL: What is about La-Mulana that has made it so well known in the west?

TN: I’m honestly not sure. I’m actually surprised that you know about the original version of the game, which some Japanese fans don’t even know about.

AL: After releasing the series on PlayStation Vita, do you think that releasing the game on PS3 or another console would have been better considering the state of the Vita now?

TN: I really liked the mobility of the Vita, but thinking about it now, a console release might have been a better option. In Japan, the Vita was very popular, but I don’t think it had that same attachment in the west.

AL: For the console release of La-Mulana 1 & 2, did you consider returning to the game and adding new things to make it the complete edition?

TN: La-Mulana has been ported many times and sadly the Vita version doesn’t belong to us. So during development, we had to go back and add some stuff into the console version like right now things like the scroll speed and other quilty of life aspects have been improved in La-Mulana 1 to make it run better. La-Mulana 2 was actually made to be the better version of La-Mulana. Looking back at La Mulana is kind of embarrassing because La-Mulana 2 is so much better.

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AL: Do you still think that people should play La-Mulana before they play La-Mulana 2?

TN: When we released La-Mulana 2 in Japan we were telling people that they could play it without playing the first entry and that they can return to La-Mulana later to see the differences. However, those who play La-Mulana before La-Mulana 2 will be able to enjoy the games a little more because they’ll know the systems and characters. La-Mulana is actually much more difficult than La-Mulana 2, so if you play it and it’s too hard maybe just play La-Mulana 2. Each game is fairly long. So, if you want to play La-Mulana 2, but don’t want to spend 50 – 60 hours playing La-Mulana, watching a playthrough is efficient.

AL: Did you mean to make these games so long or did you just get carried away during development?

TN: Back then difficult games didn’t have enough content and I didn’t like that. So with our game, we decided to add a lot more stages. Ultimately, its the player who is making the game long and not the game itself. I watch a lot of playthroughs and a lot of gamers get lost looking for clues. So players who are taking memos and are organized can beat the game in 20 hours.

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AL: Since we are seeing La-Mulana 1 & 2 on consoles, can we expect a La-Mulana 3?

TN: I don’t have any plans. It’s very difficult to make these games. However, if an oil company comes to me with a stack of cash asking for it I’ll make it.

AL: What is about the La-Mulana series that makes it difficult to develop?

TN: It’s not really the puzzles are maps that are difficult, it’s more of the pure volume of work that has to go into developing the game and it takes a lot of effort on our part.

AL: Are there titles that you’ve released that you think western fans should know of even if they haven’t released in Japan?

TN: So, in 2020 Adobe will be ending their Flash support, which our prior games are built on Flash. I suggest people take a look at our catalog of games and play them before they aren’t able to anymore.

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AL: Do you have plans to back these games up and preserve them?

TN: It’s a secret, but we have some ideas.

AL: Is there anything you’d like to say to fans and new players looking forward to La-Mulana’s console release?

TN: I’m sorry that I’ve made you wait so long for this version of the game, but you are getting both 1 and 2. It does take a lot of time to get through these games, so if you’re busy with work and life, it might be best to just let it go.

I’ve heard too many stories where students would play the game before exams and completely fail the exam because they were busy playing. If you still want to play, make sure you balance it with your other duties because it’s the type of game that gets rather addicting.

LAMULANA 1 & 2 is coming to PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox One in 2020.

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Azario Lopez

Hanging out max, relaxing all cool.